Archives For church strengthening

By Meredith Flynn

On our state’s bicentennial, the resolve of its early settlers has new meaning for Baptists.

Settlers arriving in the Illinois territory in the early 1800s didn’t know what to make of what they found. History tells us many of them moved north from areas that were heavily wooded. They trusted land that could support so many trees. The Illinois prairie offered no such reassurance.

“The prairies posed a new set of problems for farmers,” writes historian Pamela Riney-Kehrberg. “Below the land’s surface were tough, fibrous roots of tall prairie grasses, extending downward a foot or more. A simple wooden plow could hardly penetrate the surface.”

The pioneers made do by settling mostly in the southern part of the state, where ready access to water and trees made constructing their homes and farms more feasible. Some, though, eventually headed north, and found a way to work the hard prairie soil. It was richer than they thought, historians say. They just needed different tools. Steel, instead of wood.

Industrial pioneers John Deere and Cyrus McCormick developed tools for farming the prairie lands. And Illinois boomed. Its statehood population in 1818 was 35,000. By 1830, it had grown to 157,000, and would triple over the next decade. Still, tending the land was expensive. Families sacrificed much, Riney-Kehrberg notes, to run even a modest farm.

Two hundred years later, the challenges of tilling the soil in Illinois are different. But they still exist, especially in spiritual terms. More than 8 million people in Illinois do not know Christ. Many churches are struggling against the cultural tide to see real transformation in their communities.

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“I have often said that even though Illinois is the second flattest state in America, being Baptist here is an uphill climb,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “Baptists have always been somewhat counter-cultural and a minority in Illinois, but that used to be because larger groups of people from different religious cultures had settled the state.
“Now it’s because the culture overall has become less and less religious, and arguably more hardened to the gospel message.”

Like Illinois’ early settlers found years ago, sometimes hard soil calls for new tools. Last year, IBSA presented four challenges to renew “pioneering spirit” among Baptists in Illinois. (Read more about the challenges at pioneeringspirit.org.)

These “new tools” are actually tried-and-true church practices: evangelism, church planting, sacrificial giving, and raising up new generations of leaders.

“The widespread and growing lostness of our state compels us to think in new ways. Maybe old ways,” said Van Kicklighter, IBSA’s associate executive director for the Church Planting Team. “The pioneers of Illinois and parts west came to those territories knowing that if they didn’t bring the gospel with them, it just would not be present. We need that same kind of spirit and thinking today.”

‘Time to do something’
After the 2017 IBSA Annual Meeting, David Starr led his church to tackle all four of the Pioneering Spirit challenges. His congregation, Community Southern Baptist Church in Clay City, is employing these new tools to make a difference in Illinois, especially in places where there is no IBSA church.

Starr approached Joe Lawson, director of missions for Louisville Baptist Association, about starting an association-wide prayer emphasis for the 10 counties in Illinois without an IBSA church. Community Southern, which averages around 70 in worship attendance, was assigned Carroll County in northwest Illinois. They started praying. Then, they took action.

“There’s a time to pray, and there’s a time to do something,” Starr said. He spoke with IBSA staff in Springfield and leaders in northwest Illinois, planning a mission trip that would be focused on assessing needs in the region. In July, Starr and his wife and another couple from their church traveled more than 300 miles along a diagonal line from Clay City to Savanna, Ill.

During their trip, they met with a church planter in Galena for a Monday night Bible study. Then, they knocked on doors. Starr said the small team visited 70% of the homes in the focus area, and found 21 people or families who wanted to commit themselves to seeing a Southern Baptist church planted there.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

The team also saw physical need in Carroll County. The region has lost jobs in two big industries—railroad and lumber. There’s poverty and hunger. A woman who the team encountered ran into them later at a local store. “Don’t forget us,” she said.

Starr’s team went back home to Clay City, but they’ve continued to pray. There’s a map on the church bulletin board showing the streets they visited, and printed prayer reminders for the congregation.

Along with the challenge to go new places with the gospel, Community Southern is keeping up with the other Pioneering Spirit commitments. They increased missions giving through the Cooperative Program, are working to enlist new leaders, and celebrated one baptism on One GRAND Sunday, a statewide baptism emphasis in April.

“Here is a pastor and church that captured the pioneering spirit,” Kicklighter said. “They heard about a place where there was a compelling need, and they decided to do something about it.

“We need lots of Illinois Baptist churches with this kind of passion and willingness—a pioneering spirit.”

Starr said he’s never seen anything like it in his years of ministry. His church is investing willingly in other people and places. Like Illinois’ early settlers, they’re tilling the hard soil, and using less familiar tools to do so.

“We watch God,” Starr said. “He’s done everything.”

– Meredith Flynn, with info from History.com and “The Historical Development of Agriculture in Illinois” by Pamela Riney-Kehrberg

By Meredith Flynn

Larry Rhodes

Larry Rhodes leads worship at during a IBSA chapel service.

In a season meant for gratitude, Jason Vinson didn’t feel much. It was Thanksgiving when years of discouragement over his church led the pastor to the point he now calls rock bottom.

“Lord, this is not what I signed up for,” he prayed back then. “Please get somebody else. Can I have a way out? Would you please do something different, because this is killing me.”

For several years, Vinson and his church had faced internal challenges as they struggled to find effective ways to minister in their community. It was a lonely time, he said, a period when he questioned what God was doing, or whether he was working at all.

Finally, in 2016, they decided they needed a new start. The church moved forward under a new name—Charis Baptist Fellowship—and with Vinson still serving as pastor. He looked for partners to help his church, and found one in Larry Rhodes, an IBSA zone consultant in the Metro East region.

“We set a date to have lunch together, and heard the story of their church—the challenges they’ve been through, and how they met those challenges through prayer and fasting and consultation within their body,” Rhodes said.

“I was so excited to hear about how God was bringing healing and new life to that fellowship.”

As a consultant in one of ten zones in Illinois, Rhodes connects resources and training with pastors, who in turn help their churches engage their communities with the gospel. In Vinson’s case, he first needed someone to listen.

The Mission Illinois Offering supports the ministry of zone consultants like Rhodes, who serves as a sounding board and resource for pastors and churches in Metro East St. Louis. Rhodes and his fellow consultants seek to serve on the front lines alongside churches that are seeking community transformation, through the power of the gospel.

“Just the fact that Larry really believed in us was incredible,” Vinson said. “He really believed that God had a good work here, that God wanted me to continue in the work here.”

Lamb Book

With help from IBSA ministry specialists, Pastor Jason Vinson (pictured above) and Charis Baptist Fellowship overcame challenges and are working to meet needs in their community of Collinsville.

The summer after their restart, Charis hosted two Bible clubs for children, using a kit provided by Rhodes through IBSA. They hosted the clubs in a local park and in a nearby trailer community with the help of visiting mission teams—partnerships Rhodes helped forge.

Charis has fostered the relationships built through the clubs in a new Sunday morning Bible study for children, and a bi-weekly family discipleship time where dads teach their children from God’s Word. Two years after God started something new in Belleville, he’s still on the move, Vinson said.

“There’s an excitement, a joy, and an expectation that God is at work in this place.”

Together in the trenches
MIO Logo 500pxRhodes makes it a point to meet with each pastor in his zone, which includes the Gateway and Metro East Baptist Associations. (Local associations are networks of Baptist churches that often cooperate for ministry efforts like mission trips.) At those meetings, he wants to hear the pastor’s story, and help connect him with resources that can help the church in its big-picture mission.

For Calvary East St. Louis, that mission is to engage young people who have moved away from the church. “Our church started primarily with the concept of getting youth involved, getting them to know Christ, and keeping them involved and active in the process,” said Pastor Bermayne Jackson.

Rhodes came alongside the young church with resources to fulfill their mission, including a Vacation Bible School (VBS) resource kit and an evangelism training resource called “3 Circles.” Calvary used both kits last summer, hosting VBS for kids and teaching “3 Circles” to their parents.

The value of their first VBS was to show the church they could do it, their pastor said, that even a small church can be very effective. “We can make an impact,” Jackson said. “We can change lives. And it doesn’t take a hundred, 200, or 300 people to do it.

“We’re a church that has 46 members on the books. Average attendance is 30 a Sunday. But we feel confident in the fact that we can go out and make changes in our community.”

“That’s why we’re here, is to serve them [churches], and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast.”

Jackson is a bivocational pastor, spending his days working as a sales manager and his evenings and weekends at church. He’s surrounded by a great leadership team at Calvary, but acknowledges pastoring can be lonely. Friendship and encouragement from experienced leaders is a key factor in being able to stick with the mission.

“Personally, (I) get an increase energy by knowing that you have a support system there,” Jackson said of relationships he’s built with Rhodes, others from IBSA, and leaders from his local network of churches, Metro East Association. “Sometimes (Larry) is talking, and he doesn’t know how much encouragement he’s giving to me.”

Rhodes knows how difficult it is for pastors to find time to meet with him, especially when so many are working at other jobs during the week, and balancing work, family, and church responsibilities. On top of all that, they want to see their communities transformed by the gospel.

“That’s why we’re here, is to serve them, and resource them, and encourage them in ways that we can, to push back the lostness in our state, which is vast,” Rhodes said.

“It’s critically important that IBSA realize the people ‘out in the trenches,’ as I like to say, are crucial to evangelism and to discipleship in the state of Illinois. We’re fighting an uphill battle all the way, but we’re still fighting, and we should.”

Here to help
Andre Dobson has pastored churches for 44 years. Still, he said, he needs people like Larry Rhodes to come alongside him and help him be better.

“He went out of his way to stop by the church to introduce himself and inform us about things happening with IBSA,” Dobson said. Rhodes also offered friendship. “It was really out of that relationship, knowing that here was someone that I could trust…that I asked him to begin to get involved in helping us as a church be able to minister in the way that we needed to.”

“…we’re here to help them [churches]. And we’re here because of them.”

The long-time pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Alton is mindful of the DNA he’s building for the next generation of leaders at his church. He wants to establish strong, effective, meaningful practices in areas like worship, discipleship, and evangelism.

Armed with resources, zone consultants stand ready to help churches do more effective ministry in their communities. They also serve as a sounding board for leaders, like Dobson, who are deeply invested in seeing their congregations embrace the gospel and the call to share it. Because of their visibility and partnership with churches, they often serve as the faces of IBSA, Rhodes said.

“I don’t think this face ought to represent anything,” he said self-deprecatingly, “so I call it ‘boots on the ground.’ I think it’s a tremendous way to let our churches know that we’re here. That we’re here to help them. And we’re here because of them.”

Call to prayer
Please pray for IBSA’s zone consultants and the churches they serve. Pray for stronger churches across Illinois that can build up disciples and share Christ with lost people. Pray for the Mission Illinois Offering, that many more churches will support the annual collection for state missions, which helps fund the work of Larry Rhodes and IBSA’s other missionaries and ministry staff.

Learn more about the Mission Illinois Offering.

Summit gathers 1,000 church leaders for learning, encouragement, and reminder of shared mission

MLS main session

Springfield | Ministry in the Midwest has ups and downs, successes and struggles. The work of advancing the gospel in a diverse, large region requires creativity, perseverance, and a willingness to sacrifice personal preference.

With their common calling in mind, more than 1,000 leaders from 13 Midwest states gathered in Springfield Jan. 23-25 at the Midwest Leadership Summit, a meeting organized every three years by Southern Baptist state conventions in the region.

“We share the same love for our communities and vision to see people come to Christ,” said Tim Burgess, a pastor in Mt. Vernon, Mo., “and getting together is a great reminder that we are not working at this alone.”

The large-group sessions and more than 90 breakouts tackled specific ministries—college campuses, church planting, missions, women, youth, and Disaster Relief, to name a few. Underlying each session was the need to advance the gospel in a culture that’s moving farther away from biblical truth. In our culture of change, one thing has stayed the same, said Detroit’s Darryl Gaddy.

“You look around and notice that nothing stays the same,” said the urban church planting specialist in his keynote address to open the Summit. “Nothing is as it was ten, five, or even two years ago.

“But actually there is one thing that does stay the same. Sin. Oh, the consistency of brokenness. It never takes a vacation. But friends, we are the church. And we, like Peter who raised the lame man up in the name of Jesus Christ, are called to speak into the brokenness.”

Gaddy urged Midwest leaders to be “agents of change” in their communities, which will require obedience when it’s not convenient, becoming less so others can become more, and giving up their rights to someone else—Jesus.

“We have received information for our heads, inspiration for our hearts, and implementation for our hands,” Gaddy said. “Let’s not leave here the same way we came.”

God at work
Like the Midwest itself, leaders in Springfield for the Summit represented a wide variety of contexts, including places where new churches are making inroads into previously unreached communities. North American Mission Board President Kevin Ezell facilitated a discussion with four planters who took to the main stage to talk about strategy, cooperation, and the power of prayer.

“There is a quote that I always go to when I think about our church,” said David Choi, pastor of Church of the Beloved in Chicago. “When men work, they work. But when men pray, God works. The great church planter is the Lord. Recruit prayer warriors to lift up your ministry because that’s truly the secret sauce.”

In a few years, Choi’s church has grown from one—himself—to encompass hundreds meeting for worship every weekend. He credited God for the growth, and the prayers of people who live far from his city but have made it a point to lift up Church of the Beloved.

Ezell also introduced Paul Sabino, pastor of Candeo Church on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Sabino is part of The Salt Network, a family of next-generation churches working together to plant churches in major university cities.

“We are seeing the power of God on us and it’s like holding a Dixie cup; it’s overflowing and we can’t contain it,” Sabino said. “Jesus said he would make us fishers of men. The fish are on college campuses and they are hungry. They are crying out for the living God to impact their lives.”

The focus on church planting was encouraging for Christine Watkins, who came to the Summit as a member of Jachin Baptist Church, a 10-month-old church plant in Flint, Mich. Her husband, Derrick, is pastor of the church named for a word found in 1 Kings 7:21. Jachin means “the Lord will establish,” Watkins said.

“I think attending this summit and hearing all the great knowledge and stories of how God has blessed young church plants is part of how God is opening doors and giving direction in how he is going to establish our church.”

‘Pray bigger prayers’
Jeff Iorg, President of Gateway Seminary in Ontario, Ca., understands what it means to advance the gospel in difficult environments.

“Much of what you are experiencing now in the Midwest we experienced 30 years ago in California,” he said during the Summit’s final session. “It seems like an impossible task with formidable obstacles…Yet, I’m here to tell you the gospel is advancing on the West Coast, and healthy churches are growing with denominational influence and cooperation.”

Iorg said the reason for the gospel’s advancement, especially in a hostile cultural environment, can be found in John 14.

“Jesus said in verse 12, ‘I assure you: The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.’

“‘And he will do even greater works than these’—that is quite a sober declaration of Scripture,” Iorg said. “Do you believe the word of God? Do you believe Jesus meant what he said?”

Iorg encouraged leaders to pray and ask God for what is worthy to be asked for in Jesus’ name and to surrender control to the Holy Spirit.

“Confess your powerlessness and ask the Holy Spirit for the filling, guiding, and directing,” he said. “So often, we start to rely on our own strategic plans. That’s not going to work. We must depend on the filling of the Holy Spirit to get the mission done.”

The last step to advancing the gospel in this cultural environment is to teach people to read, understand, and obey the Bible. Iorg said the only time he has seen people transformed is when they engage God’s Word.

“No games, no gimmicks,” Iorg said. “Pray bigger prayers in the name of Jesus. Work in the Holy Spirit’s power and trust him to do supernatural things in you. And find a way to teach people to internalize the Word of God. That’s it. Now let’s go home and do it.”

Kayla Rinker is a freelance writer living in Missouri.

Who’s at the table?

ib2newseditor —  August 18, 2016

Office chairLooking around the table at a leadership meeting, I noted who was there. More important, I realized who wasn’t.

This was the first meeting under the church’s new leadership structure. Most of the people had served in leadership capacities and most of them had served together at one time or another. But they had not all served together at the same time.

So we brought them together.

The need in this congregation was enhanced communication among ministry planners. The church’s various ministries had a history of bumping heads. There was confusion over use of rooms and recruiting workers. There was often a sense that no one really knew what was going on. And it was evident that the ministry teams held differing views on their own purposes, and different interpretations of the vision of the church.

Surely a regular meeting of the leaders would help to fix this. But it didn’t.

Not all the leaders were there. One man who said he hated meetings chose not to attend, so his cause had no voice in the allocation of dates and resources. Another team had three people in attendance, so the discussion felt tilted to their interests.

Sitting there, I made a few notes:

• Everyone here is a longtime member. Are there new people with fresh ideas we should bring to the table?

• Everyone is from the same generation. How can we bring other age groups to the discussion?

• Everyone is from an elected position, but not all ministries are represented. And a couple don’t need this level of input. Which are the right ministries to include so the vision is accomplished?

• Our discussion seems dominated by a few not-well-prepared people. How can we improve their preparation or dismiss them from the group?

• After this meeting, we still need buy-in from “unelected” leaders. How can we bring opinion leaders to the table?

Next time you’re at a leadership meeting, give some thought to who’s at the table.

 This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Resource Magazine. Read it online at Resource.IBSA.org.

 – Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist

Learning how to learn

Lisa Misner —  January 7, 2016

LeadershipIf you have been in a leadership role for very long, you have experienced organizational insanity! It can be described as doing what you have always done, the way you have always done it and expecting different results. We chuckle when we hear that because we know how easily it can happen.

It would be nice if annually articulating a clear vision based on the Great Commission, creating a strategy based on the five functions of the church, and then providing training for our staffs and volunteers were all it took to be effective in ministry. Unfortunately, it is not. In addition to these important leadership activities, we must help the churches we lead become learning organizations to prevent drifting off mission.

A church that is a learning organization will stay responsive to its ministry environment. It will learn better ways to meet the needs of its community and create new on-ramps for the gospel.

We see the principle of being a learning organization in Acts 6:1-7. When the early church had success in reaching Greek people with gospel, the need for reorganization and new staffing to meet the growing ministry needs became evident. These believers learned what needed realignment by looking at the ineffectiveness of their food distribution system and were able to transform their ministry structure, resulting in greater disciple-making capacity.

We live in a time when there is a lot of talk about church revitalization and church planting. I am for both. Let me suggest that when churches need revitalization, often it is because they have quit learning. They no longer know how to make adjustments to their mission efforts because they are not learning from their field efforts. They might not even think that it is necessary to learn from their results in the field. I contend that after we have done our theological homework, the next source for vital organizational learning is the mission field we are trying to reach.

Here are three ways churches can stop the insanity and become learning organizations.

1. Establish a supportive learning environment. Create opportunities for staff or volunteers to express their thoughts about the work they are currently doing without fear of being belittled. Help people become aware of opposing ideas that are present. Help them move beyond fixing problems to creating novel solutions. I have found asking these four questions about how things are going is a helpful place to start:

  • What is right about our methods and results?
  • What is confusing about our methods and results?
  • What is missing from our methods and results?
  • What is wrong about our methods and results?

2. Create helpful learning processes and practices. In order for an organization to learn, helpful facts and information must be gathered, processed, interpreted, shared and acted on. Probably the best known example of this approach is the U.S. Army’s After Action Review. It is a systematic debriefing after every mission:

  • What did we set out to do?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What will we do next time?

3. Model learning at the senior leadership level. Senior leaders who model learning:

  • Invite input from peers and subordinates in critical discussions.
  • Ask probing questions.
  • Listen attentively.
  • Encourage multiple viewpoints.
  • Provide time, resources and venues for reflecting and improving past performance and for identifying challenges.

Remember, you will lead the organization that you allow or the one that you create.

Bob Bumgarner is executive pastor at Chets Creek Church in Jacksonville, Fla. He will be the featured speaker at the Illinois Leadership Summit, January 26-27, 2016. Reprinted by permission from the Florida Baptist Witness.

 

Pat_Pajak_blog_calloutCOMMENTARY | Pat Pajak

You might actually be tearing down the very thing you’re trying to build if you’re guilty of these teamwork killers:

1. Practicing the age-old adage: My way or the highway
When trying to build teamwork, don’t forget that everyone has an opinion. Oftentimes, the thoughts, ideas and suggestions that arise through team discussions can be helpful. Listen to and learn from your team, involve them in decision making, ask for their input, and embrace the reality that teamwork can often be better than “my way or the highway!”

2. Being all about the numbers
Make no mistake about it, numbers do matter and the bottom line is important, but it’s not the final measurement. The very best teamwork (strategies, goals, planning and effort) doesn’t always produce the expected results. Numbers become a problem when a leader puts so much focus on them that he or she forgets about the importance of the team – the people who are making those numbers happen. People matter more than numbers, and forgetting that fact destroys teamwork.

3. Talking without listening
If no one else can get a word in or share an opinion, there is no teamwork. A leader destroys the opportunity to build future leaders if he or she is always talking and never listening. If people are never heard, they will soon cease to share things that matter.

4. Changing things just for the sake of changing things
Change is good and sometimes necessary. But it must be based on a specific outcome. Any leader who takes this to another level by changing things just to let you know they’re in charge doesn’t really understand teamwork. Operating as a team requires a leader to explain why change is necessary, move carefully through the process, and be willing to admit that what the team is saying sometimes makes perfect sense. Failure to survey the impact, timing and necessity of change destroys teamwork. Get everyone on board before any change takes place.

5. Micro-managingThe quickest way to destroy a team is to micro-manage every decision, action and assignment. Team members know the difference between being given a responsibility, and being handed a predetermined to-do list. Leaders who care more about things being done exactly their way destroy the notion of teamwork. Are you really interested in building a team? Remember the word of Dr. John Maxwell: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Pat Pajak leads IBSA’s church strengthening team.